News of Joanne Ringer's fate brings some closure, but questions linger
EASTHAMPTON — Savanah Ringer sat at a table at Village Pizza and talked about life since her mother, Joanne "Jo" Ringer, disappeared last March.
Police believed that Ringer was killed by her husband, who has since taken his own life. But they could not find her body.
As the months ticked by, Ringer's family and friends grew frustrated with the lack of answers, and felt stuck in limbo.
"I don't think anything's going to get any easier until we find her," said the younger Ringer, who was accompanied by Ginger Plantier, a close friend of her mother's.
"We are going on with our lives, because we have to," Plantier said. "We don't have a choice; the rest of the world isn't waiting like we are."
That wait is over.
On Thursday evening, less than two weeks after the women sat down to talk with The Eagle about the case, forensic experts confirmed that human remains found in Hatfield on Tuesday were those of Jo Ringer. Dental records confirmed her identity.
Shortly after learning of her mother's fate, Ringer, 20, posted on Facebook.
"It's been almost a year since she went missing and every day I've wanted her to walk through the door and hug me and tell me she loved and missed me," she said. "But today I know for certain that will not happen."
Plantier said family and friends have chosen to not make any further public comment before a previously planned memorial and vigil Sunday evening in Hatfield. But the news brought some closure, one day short of a year since Ringer was last seen alive.
Ringer was scheduled to begin her first shift driving a cab for Aaron's Paradise Taxi in Easthampton on March 2, 2017, ending a period of unemployment. She never arrived for that shift.
Her husband, Charles "Chad" Reidy, reported Ringer missing two days later.
He told police he delayed reporting after traveling the route to Easthampton and checking in with the cab company March 3, and he thought he had to wait at least 24 hours before reporting an adult as missing.
In his March 4 interview with police, Reidy said he spent part of the previous day in Hatfield. Specifically, he said, he stopped by an oak tree on a tree farm near Mountain Road — a spot he said he would sometimes visit when he was upset.
Ringer's remains were found in a wooded area near Mountain Road.
Her car was found abandoned in Easthampton on March 6, Reidy's 42nd birthday.
On March 13, police obtained a warrant authorizing the placement of a GPS device on his car to track his movements in hopes of gleaning information about Ringer's whereabouts.
To police, Reidy was a prime suspect in Ringer's disappearance from the early stages of the investigation.
Based on signals that Ringer had sent in recent months, friends and family also believed he killed her.
During an interview with police, Reidy said he and Ringer had their first date — brunch at Wiggins Tavern in Northampton — on March 27, 2016. It was Easter Sunday, and Reidy brought flowers, he said.
The two had met in September 2015, in a Northampton AutoZone store and exchanged numbers amid a shared interest in Volkswagens. Ringer drove one, and Reidy described himself as a fanatic about the vehicles.
It would be months before the two connected again, after Reidy called her and asked if she wanted to go look at VW buses with him.
Reidy said he and Ringer bonded very quickly and were just like "peas and carrots."
Ringer invited her daughter, Savanah to meet Reidy in July 2016. Savanah later told police Reidy seemed nice, and she didn't see a cause for concern based upon that meeting.
Reidy and Ringer began living together, first in Northampton, then in Easthampton and Pelham, Vt., before moving into their home on Halls Ground Road in Clarksburg on Oct. 14, 2016.
A few days earlier, Ringer was still quite taken with Reidy and excited about the prospect of marrying him.
"Funny, I never wanted to be someone's wife, but should he ever ask, I would, without a doubt say `yes,' and probably scream it at him by accident," she wrote to a friend on Facebook.
In a matter of weeks, that giddy euphoria had devolved into fear and despair.
"I'm just sitting here in the dark and trying to figure out how to soothe myself... but there is no consoling my heartache. I'm dying everywhere but physically at the moment," Ringer wrote to a friend Nov. 5, 2016.
"Things have escalated here, and it's not safe," Ringer wrote days later.
That same day, Nov. 8, she said Reidy threatened to kill the ducks and chickens the two kept on their property.
"He went in there with a knife to kill them, I filmed him, so he got mad and left and I saved them for the day," she said.
"I'm not safe," she wrote. "I'm trying to get out, but it's going to take a little time."
She said Reidy smashed her video game system and called police in an attempt to have her removed from the house.
Despite the fear she expressed, Ringer married Reidy in a civil ceremony in Bennington, Vt., on Dec. 13. Her daughter attended that ceremony.
Ten days later, Reidy allegedly beat and choked Ringer and threatened her with a gun, according to several people interviewed by police.
That assault prompted Ringer to leave home and stay with a friend in Easthampton for a couple of days.
"If anything ever happens to me, don't underestimate Chad, because it was probably him," she told that friend.
By Jan. 1, 2017, Ringer was confiding in friends that she was ready to leave Reidy, and was "looking for a way out."
Since fall, she told one friend, she had "gotten a fat lip, my lower rib f---ed up," by Reidy.
"I'm doing what it takes to stay alive," she wrote.
That same friend last communicated with Ringer on Feb. 15. He told her he was working to set her up with a safe place to live in a few months.
She replied that she wasn't sure she would survive that long.
Plantier last saw her three days before she disappeared, when she visited her in Clarksburg for a few hours of scrapbooking.
The two made plans to visit the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. They trip never happened.
'Kind of surreal'
During her recent interview with The Eagle, Plantier said Ringer was embroiled in all manner of strife and chaos in the last few months leading up to her disappearance.
"That's one thing about all of this ... there's so many different, ridiculous and horrible facets to it," Plantier said. "Missing person, homicide, domestic violence, adultery, drugs, mental illness; there's so many different avenues to it, and they're all horrible.
"It's so much to deal with, it's so much to wrap your head around and it's kind of surreal to realize she was dealing with all of it at once," Plantier said.
"Some days you get up and you can do what you thought you were going to be able to do and just go about it. Other days, it's tougher. Holidays are really hard. January in particular, was probably the worst for me, with her birthday and my birthday," she said.
Ringer would have turned 40 on Jan. 15.
Plantier said the domestic violence that permeated the couple's relationship has invigorated Ringer's family and friends to advocate for those who might find themselves in similar situations. They sponsored a team for Northampton's annual Hot Chocolate Run, which supports Safe Passage, an organization that provides support for victims and survivors of domestic violence.
If anything good has come from the situation, Ringer and Plantier said, it has been the outpouring of support.
"There's a really good group of people to surround us," Ringer said. "A lot of people came together in a tragic time of need."
"We didn't all know one another before this happened. We all knew Jo, but we didn't all know one another," Plantier said "Very few of us actually had any kind of close relationship with one another until this happened, and now, I don't know what I would do without these people."
Plantier said it wasn't just Ringer's friends and family who have been affected, but Reidy's family as well.
"It gives me some kind of peace of mind to know that Jo had so many awesome people in her life," she said.
When contacted by The Eagle, Reidy's sister declined to be interviewed; she said the time should be used to focus on Ringer and her family.
"Despite all the hurt and pain and anger that all of us have," Plantier said, "those two groups of people have come together with one common goal: to make sure this doesn't happen to anybody ever again and to get the answers and find out exactly what it is that did happen."
The Berkshire District Attorney's Office declared Ringer's case a homicide, and named Reidy as their prime suspect, during a news conference April 21 at Northern Berkshire District Court. Moments earlier, Reidy's former girlfriend, Laura Reilly, was arraigned on three counts of misleading police investigating the disappearance.
Reilly has since been indicted by a grand jury, and her case has been moved to Berkshire Superior Court. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Her attorney, Jesse Adams, has said that his client had nothing to do with Ringer's disappearance.
Reidy was found dead April 7 in the garage of the couple's Clarksburg home. The cause of death was asphyxiation by carbon monoxide, investigators said. He did not leave a note.
Despite this week's discovery and identification of Ringer's remains, some things about her fate remain unclear, including how she died.
The Eagle reached out to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, which made the identification, as well as the Berkshire District Attorney's Office and the Northwestern District Attorney's Office in Northampton, but no new information was available Friday.
During her recent interview with The Eagle, Ringer was determined to find answers.
"Somebody knows something," she said. "Chad wasn't the only one. There's no way."
Despite the lingering uncertainty, Ringer said her mother, whose tough-as-nails independent attitude was well-known among her friends, wouldn't stand for anyone feeling sorry for her or themselves. (Jo Ringer, a motorcycle enthusiast, once turned down a ride because she wasn't going to sit on the back of any man's motorcycle.)
"My mom wouldn't want us to just mope around," Ringer said. "She'd probably kick us in our ass."
Throughout the ordeal, Ringer said she has tried to be available for others going through difficulties in their own lives as a way of dealing with the loss of her mom.
"I cope by trying to make sure other people know they don't have to be stuck in that situation," she said.
"Like making sure people know there is an out, and that they're not alone," she said. "Even if you think you're alone, you're never alone."
Staff writer Kristin Palpini contributed to this story.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.
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